At some point this week, Lois Johnson will settle in comfortably at her home in Waterloo, Iowa, and watch a tape of last night's Beanpot championship game between Boston College and Boston University. Her allegiance rests not with the Eagles nor the Terriers, but with a hockey spirit that has left an indelible mark on her life.
One of her ''boys" was playing for each of the archrivals -- Tim Filangieri for BC, Peter MacArthur for BU -- and when Johnson watches the game, she will not be surprised to see them go at one another as if they were the most bitter of enemies. Only she knows first-hand that ''they are the best of friends," which will make any confrontation easier to take.
''More than anything, I don't want to see them get hurt," said Johnson, though she should brace herself, because sure enough, MacArthur saw an opening and rocked Filangieri in the first period. He got the better of the hit, but also got bloodied, a gash in his chin requiring four stitches.
''That's what I get for hitting him," said MacArthur, who ended up on the better side of the score, 3-2, thanks to his winning goal that will surely bring a smile to Johnson's face.
For 18 years, Johnson has been providing room and board to members of the Waterloo Black Hawks, a team in the US Hockey League, and for the 2003-04 season, Filangieri and MacArthur were ''her boys." For nine months, she fed them three square meals a day (''always big and good," said MacArthur), and as much as the young men appreciated her culinary talents, they got the biggest kick out of the pranks they used to pull on her.
And just what does she get out of all this?
''I never had any boys of my own," said Johnson, who raised three daughters. ''So I've loved having boys around the house, especially during the long winter. And I love hockey. Period."
That being the case, Johnson would have felt quite at home inside the TD Banknorth Garden last night, because the Beanpot, above all, is a testament to a citizenry's love of hockey. Outside of Massachusetts -- heck, outside of Route 128 -- no one can quite understand this midwinter affair, why it quenches our provincial thirst. Hockey is a culture unto itself, and if you're not quite in tune with it, no worries.
Then there are those like Johnson, who surely is in tune, which is why she wasn't worried about her boys.
''They're good friends, but I know they'll give it their all to beat one another, and when it's over, they'll still be good friends," she said.
Therein rests the glory of hockey, whose mantra is simple: Play hard, but when the game is over, it's over. Like generations of Beanpotters before him, MacArthur understands this, and he tried to explain just why hockey players are able to adhere to it.
''I think we all know the type of person it takes to get to such an elite level," said the native of Clifton Park, N.Y. ''We know to leave the game on the ice."
That is why, before he was named the game's MVP, MacArthur pulled Filangieri aside and said, ''You played great. Good luck in [the playoffs] and I hope we see you in the finals of Hockey East."
A legendary voice from another era said that a willingness to leave the game on the ice is what always appealed to him about hockey.
''We always had a mutual respect for those who played the game," said Thomas ''Red" Martin, a two-time All-America defenseman during his storied BC career (1958-61). ''I don't know if that's prevalent in other sports, but in hockey, once the game was over, it was time to socialize."
To this day, Martin counts among his many friends a number of men who were bitter rivals back in his playing days, including Stewart Forbes (Harvard, '61). In fact, over the weekend, Martin was in Florida playing alongside Forbes at a member-guest golf tournament.
''Imagine that?" said Martin. ''A BC hockey guy and Harvard hockey guy as teammates?"
Dave Silk isn't surprised. He's a BU Terrier to the bone, but he considers onetime BC defenseman Paul Barrett a good friend.
''For all the emotion and all the aggression and all the intensity that goes into the game, when it's done, it's over," said Silk, a scoring machine whose BU career was highlighted by a 1978 NCAA title game win over Barrett and BC. ''We always went at it pretty hard, but I had respect for [Barrett] and I know the respect was mutual."
In Martin's era, the Beanpot teams were mostly made up of kids from city neighborhoods and nearby suburbs.
Look at the 1960s, when a couple of kids from Southie -- Dennis O'Connell and John Cunniff -- pursued their collegiate hockey dreams at different ends of Commonwealth Avenue. O'Connell played for BU, Cunniff became a legend at BC, and never was there a meeting in which they didn't go at it with a ferocity rooted in their neighborhood upbringing. But never was there a minute when they weren't friends, and the same thing has shaped the relationship between the coaches in last night's title game, Jack Parker of BU and Jerry York of BC.
Bitter foes, but never enemies, because they've always left the game on the ice.
Parker hails from Somerville, York from Watertown, so they were typical of college hockey years ago. That neighborhood feel began to fade when coaches brought in prospects from other parts of the country, from Canada, and even from overseas. But whereas some would think that such a mixture would make for a cold atmosphere, Silk disagrees.
''I think it's even [cozier] now, because so many of these kids know each other from USA Hockey programs," he said. ''There was some familiarity [in my day], but it's much more now."
Of course, Martin is convinced that it doesn't really matter, that there's an understanding with true hockey players that doesn't need an interpreter. For example, Martin recalls his 1964 US Olympic experience, ''a sort of bloodthirsty game against the Czechs in Prague." There was a lot of bumping and pushing, and since not a soul on the US team could say they knew anyone wearing the other uniform, how could Martin have been prepared for what happened a few hours after the game.
''We were in a local pub and we ran into the Czech players," said Martin. ''It was like old home week."
They didn't speak the same language. They just played the same game.